By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Viz.
Well, I didn't really get what I wanted at the end of Volume 7. Kazehaya and Sawako are still misreading and frustrating me. Not just me either, as Yano is starting to be driven a little nuts by the whole thing. However, there's a new guy on the cover, and this is really his volume, as Kento, who was introduced at the end of Vol. 7, makes a full appearance here, and hits the cast like a nuclear bomb.
Kento is, of course, the male rival that this series really did need, and the counterpart to Kurumi. But Kurumi was rather sneaky about her manipulation, projecting a facade of sweet young thing while working to get rumors spread... and yet strangely open with Sawako, who she always referred to by her correct name. Kento is, by contrast, very open and obvious about his manipulations, going right to the source and instilling doubt and confusion with no need for intermediaries. What's more, I noticed that he refers to Sawako as 'Sadako' whenever he speaks to her, but when talking with others when she *isn't* around, he uses her real name.
His conversation with Kazehaya is devastating to the latter, as Kento feels (whether this is true or just something he's saying we don't know yet) that Kazehaya is only interested in Sawako as she's an 'outsider' and that Sawako is better off developing on her own rather than having to worry about jealous girls trying to sabotage her maturity. (Oh Kento, you're a good 4 or 5 volumes too late.) What's more, he notes - and Ryu and Chizu both later agree - that Kazehaya doesn't understand Sawako at all, and that the two are quite far apart.
Kazehaya gets a lot of attention this volume, which is good, as he needed a crisis of some sort. We see him almost managing to work on a confession at the start of the book, after seeing Kento and Sawako bond so quickly, but then he chickens out, and later proves to be awkward around her. Sawako doesn't really get it, but everyone else immediately notices the difference. Now he has to genuinely aalyse his feelings, which can be quite difficult for a high-school boy, even one as squeaky clean as Kazehaya.
Yano and Pin, as always, get the best moments in the manga in terms of figuring things out. Yano is particularly aggravated here, as the relationship between Sawako and Kazehaya, not exactly a fast-moving one to begin with, is now actually moving backwards thanks to Kento and Kazehaya's own insecurities. As she notes to Chizu (who has now, as of Volume 8, finally realized that Kazehaya likes Sawako 'that way'), she wants Sawako to be more confident in herself before they start dating, so that it doesn't look as if he's doing it because he feels sorry for her. Kazehaya becomes so paralyzed at this proposition (which Kento brought up) that it requires Pin to kick his ass into action. Pin noting that starting off knowing nothing about the other person is how ALL relationships are, of course - that's WHY you get closer.
As for Sawako herself, despite being a bundle of nerves due to Kazehaya's treating her differently (and a small mini-breakdown in front of Chizu and Yano), she is getting much better at dealing with others, though I'm not sure it translates into more confidence in herself, as she still hasn't equated her actions and behaviors with actual good things, but it's great to see. Kento *does* have great interaction with her, and it's rather startling how quickly they bond - and what's more, Kento's direct 'Do this, do that' advice seems to be working better than Kazehaya's mild positive reinforcement.
So we end with another cliffhanger, this time with Kazehaya going off to confront Kento and Sawako. Now, the sensible shoujo fans knows that Kento is not going to win the day here (it's not even clear if he's actually interested in her romantically), but the fun is in the journey, and I look forward to seeing if Kazehaya can throw off his doubts and step up his game.